Rush of outside spending turns heads in contest to replace US Rep. Earl Blumenauer

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
April 25, 2024 8:26 p.m.

State Rep. Maxine Dexter has benefited from more than $1.2 million in ads supporting her candidacy in the 3rd Congressional District.

(Left to right) Democratic Party primary candidates for Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, Maxine Dexter, Eddy Morales, and Susheela Jayapal.

(Left to right) Democratic Party primary candidates for Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, Maxine Dexter, Eddy Morales, and Susheela Jayapal.

Photos courtesy of the campaigns / OPB

The three leading Democrats vying to replace U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer in Congress don’t disagree on much.


On issues like abortion, housing, the environment and much more, state Rep. Maxine Dexter, Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales and former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal are virtually indistinguishable.

But with ballots headed out to voters beginning next week, a new fault line is emerging: the role money from an outside group is playing in the race.

Dexter, a critical care doctor at Kaiser Permanente, has recently been the beneficiary of a massive ad campaign funded by the 314 Action Fund. The super PAC supports Democratic candidates with backgrounds in science, and can spend an unlimited amount of money on races as long as it doesn’t coordinate that spending with candidates.

In the last three weeks, 314 Action has reported spending more than $1.2 million on ads targeting voters in the 3rd Congressional District anchored in deep-blue Portland, many of them touting Dexter’s qualifications as an “experienced progressive.”

The talking points in the advertisements bear a striking resemblance to detailed instructions Dexter’s campaign offers on its website for entities looking to create independent ads in support of her campaign, a tactic now common to candidates in congressional races.

The ad buy could be a major factor in the primary race, where whichever Democrat prevails is practically certain to win a seat in Congress in November. It’s more than the combined amount Dexter’s two central opponents have reported raising in the race to-date. It’s also given Dexter more visibility on Portland airwaves than Morales or Jayapal — without the candidate even having to dip into her own funds.

With no similar outside super PACs currently wading into the contest to lend a hand to their cause, Jayapal and Morales are starting to go on the offensive.

In a press release last week, Jayapal called on her opponents to reject “any spending from groups funded by MAGA Republicans,” appearing to suggest, without offering evidence, that GOP money had entered the race.

Meanwhile, Morales called the 314 Action spending into question during a recent interview.


“Anytime that you have a massive amount of unaccountable dark money coming into these congressional districts, we have to ask ourselves why,” he said. “I’m supported by the people of this district. I’m funded by people of this district. I think Maxine should answer whether that’s the same for her and who is giving money to this 314 super PAC to buy this election.”

Dexter, a two-term state representative who’s had support from 314 Action in the past, says she’s happy to receive the help.

“I’m really proud and honored to have them by my side for all these years, and I’m grateful for them investing in this race,” she said in an interview, adding that she believed such spending should ultimately be outlawed. “I absolutely believe we should have publicly funded campaigns and that we should not be spending this kind of money in political races, but that is the law of the land and that is how things are done.”

Unlike some groups that spend lavishly on federal political races, 314 Action Fund files detailed reports about where it gets its money. But the committee submits those on a monthly basis, and the most recent report, filed last week, only accounts for receipts through March. Money the PAC received this month, when it’s spending in support of Dexter, won’t be revealed until just before the May 21 primary.

“We proudly endorsed Dr. Maxine Dexter when she ran for the state House and we’re once again proud to support her in Oregon’s 3rd District race,” Shaughnessy Naughton, 314 Action’s founder and president, said in a statement.

To date, the largest donation 314 Action has reported this cycle was a $500,000 contribution from California venture capitalist Ray Rothrock. Federal campaign finance records show Rothrock has given almost exclusively to Democratic candidates in the past, including President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Beto O’Rourke and to now-Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2010 congressional reelection bid.

The 314 Action Fund isn’t only targeting Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District.

The PAC revealed this week it will spend at least $135,000 in support of state Rep. Janelle Bynum, a former electrical engineer who is in a heated Democratic primary in the 5th Congressional District. The victor in the race between Bynum and Jamie McLeod-Skinner will take on Republican U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer in November, in one of the nation’s few districts won by President Biden in 2020 but held by a Republican.

Still unclear in both of those closely watched primary races is whether Oregon will see a rush of outside spending from pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. The group has signaled it is willing to spend big this year opposing Democrats like Jayapal, whose younger sister Pramila is already a prominent congressional progressive.

In one major such effort, however, AIPAC’s cash failed to prevent California Democrat David Min from prevailing in a March primary for a U.S. House seat. Politico reported last week that some progressive candidates are confident they can counteract spending by AIPAC by pointing it out to Democratic primary voters.

There is already evidence that outside spending only goes so far with Portland-area Democrats. In 2022, political newcomer Carrick Flynn benefited from more than $7 million in independent expenditures from a super PAC affiliated with Sam Bankman-Fried, the now-disgraced founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.

But the tsunami of positive ads in support of Flynn didn’t convince Democratic voters in Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, who wound up choosing now-Congresswoman Andrea Salinas instead.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect that California candidate David Min has advanced to the general election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.